It’s a symptom of the Age of Information and light-speed accessibility to answers for just about any question one may have: the letdown, the frustration, that feeling of empty anxiety when the question involves more that a one word or short and tidy synopsis quickly consumed and easily digested. But knowledge is more than a set of factoids without context, and cannot be shared or absorbed and made meaningful so quickly. Answers to complex problems with amorphous concepts and ambiguous definitions that must be moved in and about and fit into a jigsaw puzzle of a picture that we may have never before seen are furtive and unwilling captives in the game of epistemological hide-and-seek. True knowledge is not reducible to daylong trivia surfing or discoverable by wagging Diogenes’ lantern toward every distraction that shows itself while skittering around in the rabbit hole.
Right now, there is a need to know that outweighs our aversion to the symptoms of the failure to be instantly gratified with a simple truth. What is needed—sooner rather than later—is knowing whether President-elect Donald Trump is who he said he is, or has presented himself to be in his campaign leading to his election: the nativist white nationalist, the unstable vindictive bully; the crass, loose potty mouth that shows little of a conscience or empathy; the woefully incurious and uninformed world statesman wannabe; the misogynist and sexual abuser; the high roller businessman with a fondness for stiffing contractors and suppliers, and for his proclivity for civil litigation to skip out on debts and vengefully force adversaries into punitive settlements. And for the secular, the “none”, the atheist and non-Christian (Muslim) communities, knowing whether his pandering to the evangelical and religious right interests is a sincere and personal belief or just a play for that segment of the base of support. The citizenry needs to know because knowledge is a power unto itself, and power is ultimately what it will need if he is what his made-for-media persona has portrayed, strobing from our televisions and tablets for the last 18 months. It will need first the power to resist, and then the power to overcome. The answer may indeed be somewhere between the binary yes, he is that man/no, he is not, deep down, that man, and may be only discoverable by assembling clues about those whom he surrounds himself with.
That need and desire for this knowledge is not limited to the citizens of the United States. The whole world, of which the U.S. has been the geopolitical leader by default since the end of World War II, is watching, as relations in international trade and immigration and his lack of understanding in matters of international military defense and strategy—and eventually war and peace itself— could be at stake. Global leaders are watching to see if he is what he seems to be; and if he does what he said he would do.
Once, he was a Democrat, a liberal-leaner in the earlier days of the cultural wars. We didn’t know much about him then, but now know his father and he (as his father’s young apprentice) were involved in cvil rights litigation for housing discrimination. We know that he took a serious personal interest in the Central Park Five case in which five youthful Blacks were wrongfully convicted (through forced confessions) of the rape and murder of a 30 year-old jogger. Trump took out full page ads in several NYC newspapers, calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty, presumably with the five to be first in line for the sentence. This is but one instance of refusing to admit a mistake , but rather use the revelation as a chance to double down with the myth to burnish his law and order image for his constituency. An October 8, 2016 report in the Washington Post reported “This week, when confronted again with just how wrong he was about the Central Park Five, Trump not only refused to acknowledge widely reported and well-known facts or the court’s official actions in the case. He did not simply refuse to apologize: he maintained their guilt.” We know that his current political self-promotion began with the “birther” charge against the newly-elected Obama not long after his inauguration in 2009, and he did not dismiss the idea until only a few months ago, unapologetically. We know that he claimed he could not get a fair trial from a judge of Mexican descent. We know that a proposal for a southern border wall was the kick starter for his campaign , a wall that would keep out Mexican rapists, criminals, and drugs. We know that he proposed a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the country…”. That’s Trump, the racist, intolerant, and mean-spirited Trump we have grown to know and despise, but…
In the early-morning hours after the evening of his election, he took a very low-keyed and conciliatory approach is his victory speech. He proclaimed it to be a time for unification. A day later, we saw a humble and deferential Trump commenting on his Oval Office sit down meeting with President Obama. He has spoken up for provisions in Obamacare that are worthy of surviving onto the next government health insurance program, such young adults staying on parents’ coverage, and no pre-existing exclusions. A spokesperson doubted the implementation of a “deportation force” he called for early in the campaign to round up 11 million undocumented immigrants. It may even be possible that he is truly appreciative and respectful of the enormous job he has been chosen for and may be, at least temporarily, awe-stricken at the potential for good that could come from it.
But given his record, his reckless abandonment of truth and propensity to fictionalize history, do we have cause for hope that he will be a unifier instead of divider, accepting and forwarding the value inherent in a pluralism of interest groups, races, and secular and religious concerns, all functioning successfully in one nation? On issues of global import, such as climate change and the preservation of natural resources, will he follow the slash and burn policies of corporate greed that have bequeathed ours and the next generation a thoroughly polluted planet? On the marginalization of public education—the greater the move toward privatization and its phony voucher/choice system, at the expense of the commons and assumed duty of the state for public education, the nearer we approach a neo-feudal state where only those who can afford education will pass their money, privilege, technological training, and good paying jobs down to their heirs. Judging from his selection of one of the most trenchant theocratic governors and homophobe sui generis in the country as his running mate, Mike Pence, the answer to one of those questions is no. Judging from a list of prospective cabinet appointees, the answer to the other hypotheticals is, again, no. Hardliners on international relations like John Bolton and Newt Gingrich are on the list for possible Secretary of State; religious right mainstays like Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Scott are on the list as leaders of the Department of Health and Humans Services (think Planned Parenthood, AIDS funding, universal healthcare); and tough guys Rudy Guiliani and Chris Christie are in line for Attorney General to run the well-oiled and privacy crushing surveillance network which has been expanded logarithmically during the Bush and Obama administrations. A skeptical eye needs to stay focused on his choice for the vacancy on the Supreme Court, but many more eyes need to be kept on lower court appointees. Currently there are 103 judicial vacancies with 59 nominations pending. District and Federal Appeals courts can be just as important the the Supreme Court much of the time, since many rulings go no further than these bodies. On the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex ruling, Trump recently said “it’s settled law…”, meaning—what? On Roe v. Wade, he continues to reiterate his pro-life position, earlier calling for punishment of women exercising choice (which he later recanted), but here, too, the court has made its decision. It may be something he needs to avoid altogether, but looking at his associates….
And then there was the opinion of a television commentator that Trump is not an ideologue, that he is experienced in the art of the deal, that he is a pragmatist, a git-er-done type guy. Pollyanna, I think, was her name.
And then there is the appointment of his campaign strategist, executive chairman of Breitbart News, and a white nationalist and anti-semite look-alike (if not the real thing) Steve Bannon, as his Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor; and Republican National Committee Chairman and yes man Reince Priebus as his White House Chief of Staff. The Donald is reportedly requesting security clearances for his sons and daughter, who will also be running his large, global business woven with wide-ranging and mostly unknown foreign entanglements, which stinks of nepotism and conflicts of interest.
And all of this within six days after his election. Can we really know with certainty who the real Donald Trump is this soon? From the rapid assembly of his inner circle and narrowing pool of cabinet selections, and a list of potential successors to Scalia’s seat on the SCOTUS bench compiled months ago, probability may be just close enough to certainty to presume that we need not wait much longer to know enough to begin planning the resistance—and hope this knowledge comes with the power to survive, and eventually overcome.